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Film review: Korean spy drama Assassination is entertaining but overcomplicated

Choi Dong-hoon's film is wonderful pop entertainment but the plot has too many twists

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 August, 2015, 1:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 10:28am

A period spy drama that engrosses in bursts, Assassination is so overstuffed with plots that its rousing action results in diminishing returns. Similar to writer-director Choi Dong-hoon’s stylish caper The Thieves (2012), his latest ensemble film features such a broad range of characters that it’s sometimes a chore to keep track of each and everyone’s agenda.

At a palpably overlong 140 minutes, this patriotic epic is perhaps best appreciated outside Korea as an espionage fantasy of clear-cut heroes and villains. Set mainly in Shanghai and Japanese-occupied Seoul during the 1930s, the film depicts a motley crew of Korean resistance fighters as they look to put up a good fight against their colonial aggressors.

After being brought in from the cold by the provisional Korean government operative Yem Sek-jin (Lee Jung-jae), three special agents – led by sniper Ahn Ok-yun (Gianna Jun Ji-hyun) – are given a mission to assassinate the Japanese garrison governor and a pro-Japanese tycoon, Kang In-guk (Lee Kyung-young), whose adult children are set for an imminent marriage.

The plot thickens when a mole emerges and two Korean hitmen, the fabled Hawaii Pistol (Ha Jung-woo) and his assistant (Oh Dal-soo), are contracted to take out the trio. Ahn turns out to be a dead ringer for Kang’s daughter, whose sadistic Japanese general fiancé (Park Byeong-eun) accidentally befriends Hawaii Pistol, who in turn has a meet cute with Ahn.

All this would be rather maddening if Assassination wasn’t also a wonderful piece of pop entertainment. As strands of storyline feverishly tie themselves up through twists and coincidences, the double and triple crosses fade in impact next to the poise of Choi’s all-star cast. There is, indeed, nothing more fun than seeing a wedding-gown-clad, machine-guns-waving Jun shoot her way out of a deadly mission.

Assassination opens on August 27